SEFS Students Lead Doris Duke Scholars into the Field

This summer, a cohort of undergraduates from around the country spent two months at the University of Washington working on various research projects as part of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, an experiential learning program that aims to build more diversity and inclusion in the conservation community.

As part of the two-year program, Doris Duke Scholars spend their second summer working as interns with UW graduate students, and this year two SEFS doctoral students—Caitlin Littlefield and Clint Robins—served as mentors for five interns. They guided their students through eight weeks of rigorous hands-on field research, and then, on Wednesday, August 10, those interns joined others from their cohort and presented posters of their research at a culminating summit in the Fishery Sciences Building.

SEFS alumnus Brian Kertson (’01, B.S.; ’05, M.S.; ’10, Ph.D.), left, helped guide the project along with Niki, Clint and Kyle.

SEFS alumnus Brian Kertson (’01, B.S.; ’05, M.S.; ’10, Ph.D.), left, helped guide the project along with Niki, Clint and Kyle.

Caitlin mentored three interns—Alicia Juang from Harvard, Savannah Steinly from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Ethan Bott from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point—and she led them to the Methow Valley to study how terrain-driven climate variability influences patterns of forest recovery. Focusing on the 2006 Tripod fire, which burned more than 70,000 hectares north of Winthrop, Wash., their crew measured thousands of juvenile conifers, deployed temperature and relative humidity data loggers, and ate plenty of ice cream. The interns each carved out an independent research project, which they showcased at the final summit: Alicia assessed how erosion potential influences conifer recovery; Savannah processed dozens of soil samples to characterize how soil properties vary across the study area; and Ethan assessed how well indices derived from remotely sensed imagery can predict conifer recovery.

Near Issaquah, Clint was working with two other Doris Duke Scholars, Niki Love from Cornell, and Kyle Mabie from Colorado State. They spent their summer studying cougar (Puma concolor) foraging behavior under the auspices of the West Cascades Cougar Project. Niki’s project focused on edge effects, and the degree to which habitat transitions were correlated with successful cougar kills. Kyle compared kill site habitats between individual cougars to determine whether different cougars use different forest types when hunting prey. Due to the nature of data collection for their projects, as well, both interns were consistently able to work together in the field.

It’s great to see our students so involved in the Doris Duke program, helping train future scientists and expanding the voices and perspectives in the conservation movement!

Photo of Clint with interns © SEFS; photo of Caitlin in the field © Caitlin Littlefield.

Caitlin, left, with her interns Alicia, Ethan and Savannah.

Caitlin, left, with her interns Alicia, Ethan and Savannah.


SEFS Grad Students Contribute “Tree Truths” to Art Exhibition

This summer, local artist Cheryl A. Richey is showcasing a selection of her abstract “tree spirit” paintings and charcoal drawings in the UW Tower’s Mezzanine Gallery. Her show, Arbor Intelligence, explores the subtle power and mystery of trees, and the exhibition includes 30 printed “tree truths” that capture a range of scientific facts and interpretations about trees and forests.

One of Cheryl's "tree spirit" paintings, Pyrophyte 2 (acrylic, collage, burned canvas)

One of Cheryl’s “tree spirit” paintings, Pyrophyte 2 (acrylic, collage, burned canvas)

Cheryl drew from several sources to create the “tree truths,” including Tree:  A Life Story, by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady. For 12 of them, though, she partnered with SEFS graduate students—including Sean Callahan, Sean Jeronimo, Caitlin Littlefield , Korena Mafune, Allison Rossman and Jorge Tomasevic—to produce “truths” from their own research and experiences!

Arbor Intelligence opens today, Tuesday, July 5, and will run through the end of September. The UW Tower is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and it is accessible to anyone with a Husky card.

We encourage you to stop by and visit the exhibition this summer, and also to take a look through the “tree truths” that will appear with the show (with our graduate students listed in bold below next to the truths they provided!

Tree Truths

1. Trees are the “lungs” of the earth.
2. Trees often have lifelong – ‘best friend’ – relationships with mycorrhizal fungi. Without these fungi, woody plants may never have evolved on land.
3. Forests absorb more than 25 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities.
4. Forests constantly replenish Earth’s supply of fresh water.
5. Forests influence weather patterns.
6. Trees are communal and share sun and water resources via their root systems.
7. Riparian forests are critically important to river ecology, which benefits fish and wildlife. 8. Chlorophyll and hemoglobin are similar in structure with only one atom difference between them: chlorophyll’s one magnesium atom enables plants to capture light, whereas hemoglobin’s one iron atom allows blood to capture oxygen.
9. Trees’ “dynamic spiral” growth pattern is similar to other patterns found in nature, like spiral galaxies and DNA coils.
10. Lodgepole pine cones can wait 50 years for fire to open the cones and release the seeds.
11. Mature Douglas-fir trees can tolerate fire because of their nonflammable, thick bark (up to 12 inches thick).
12. It can take 36 hours for water to move from roots to canopy in a mature Douglas-fir tree.
13. Needles contain little sap, which makes them more resistant to freezing.
14. When invaded by disease, a tree seals off the infected area to control its spread.
15. Because of its smaller surface area, a needle transpires less water than a broadleaf, so conifers do better than deciduous trees in sunny environments with long dry periods.
16. Some evergreens, like the monkey puzzle tree, keep their needles for up to 15 years. 17. Rainforests lift and transpire huge amounts of water every day, creating great rivers of mist that flow across the continent. This water condenses and falls as rain.
18. Bristlecone pine trees regularly keep their needles for 20 to 30 years, and occasionally as long as 45 years. (Sean Jeronimo)
19. Bristlecone pine is the oldest known non-clonal organism in the world. One specimen is older than 4,800 years, and another is older than 5,000! (Sean Jeronimo)
20. The only living tissues of a tree are its foliage, buds and inner bark—which usually make up less than 1 percent of a tree’s biomass. (Sean Jeronimo)
21. The lodgepole pine spans an elevation range from sea level to higher than 10,000 feet, and ranges from swampy wetlands to the near-desert pumice plateau. (Sean Jeronimo) 22. Most trees are monoecious, meaning each individual bears both male and female reproductive organs. However, some tree species, such as Pacific yew, have separate male and female individuals. (Sean Jeronimo)
23. High above the forest floor, organic soils form on branches of Washington’s old-growth rainforests. These ‘canopy soils’ promote habitat for a wide array of unique organisms. It’s a whole new world that has barely been explored. (Korena Mafune)
24. The endangered marbled murrelet spends most of its life at sea, but the bird exclusively nests on mosses growing high in the canopy of coniferous trees near the coastline. (Sean Callahan)
25. About 80 percent of vegetative diversity in a forest lies in the “understory,” including saxifrages, grasses, biscuit roots and roses. These beautiful and unique plants complement the “overstory” structure and composition. (Allison Rossman)
26. Stick your nose into a black crevice between the red-orange bark plates of a big ponderosa pine. Smells like vanilla! (Caitlin Littlefield)
27. In autumn, deciduous trees respond to shorter days and cooler temperatures with colorful foliage caused by the breakdown of green chlorophyll in leaves. But with warmer temperatures and drought conditions lasting longer, some trees are dropping their leaves before they change color. (Caitlin Littlefield)
28. In a forest under attack by a pest or pathogen, you may actually count more trees—lots of young ones—than before the outbreak, because some species make a last-ditch effort to reproduce before death. (Caitlin Littlefield)
29. Dead trees are important for biodiversity. They are a source of food and shelter for insects, fungi, spiders, and many bird species, as well as small mammals, snakes, lizards, and bats. Dead trees are rich with life, and we should celebrate them, too! (Jorge Tomasevic)
30. Pyrophytes are plants, including trees (some species of pine, oak, eucalypts and giant sequoias) that have adapted to tolerate fire. In some species, fire aides them in competing with less fire-resistant plants for space and nutrients.

Painting © Cheryl A. Richey

Graduate Student Symposium: March 6!

The 12th annual Graduate Student Symposium (GSS) is set for Friday, March 6, and as always the schedule is packed with great presentations and a panel discussion!

Graduate Student SymposiumOrganized by and for SEFS graduate students, the day-long symposium—held from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Forest Club Room—highlights the research of our graduate students through presentations and a poster session. This year’s theme is “Clear as Mud: Interpreting a Changing Environment,” and presenters will grapple with complex challenges that cross scales, cross boundaries and cross ecosystems—and that cross into the political sphere, too. How do we, as scientists, make sense of it all?

In addition to several poster and presentation sessions, there will be a panel discussion featuring Dr. Dan Donato from the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Dr. Karen Bennett from the U.S. Forest Service, and John Squires from the Pinchot Partners collaborative. And as is tradition, the symposium will be immediately followed by a Dead Elk party, which is perfect for unwinding and rehashing the day’s presentations and posters over food and drinks!

The GSS is an excellent opportunity for students to present to their colleagues and professors, gain valuable experience and feedback, network with professional contacts and alumni, and also learn more about the work other students are doing at SEFS. You can present a preliminary proposal, your results from a completed project, or anything in-between. Presentations should last no more than 10 minutes, with 2-3 minutes for Q&A afterward. Undergraduate capstone students are encouraged to present a poster, too!

If you’d like to take part, abstracts must be submitted online by 5 p.m. on Friday, February 20, so get moving!

Check out the full day’s schedule, and email Caitlin Littlefield if you have any questions.